The Oklahoman

Cruz pleads guilty to 2018 Parkland massacre

- Ryan W. Miller

The gunman who killed 17 people at a Florida high school in 2018 pleaded guilty Wednesday to as many first-degree murder charges, and the legal issues in the case now turn to whether he will be sentenced to death.

Attorneys for Nikolas Cruz, 23, have said they will argue against the death penalty for their client, with a sentencing trial expected in the coming months.

At a hearing Wednesday, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked Cruz questions to gauge his mental competency and explained how entering a guilty plea would mean waiving certain constituti­onal rights. She said each guilty plea could be used as an aggravatin­g factor in the sentencing for each other charge.

Scherer then asked Cruz how he pleaded for each of the 17 murder counts, naming the students and teachers Cruz killed, plus 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder, naming the wounded as well.

Family members of the victims looked on in the courtroom, wiping away tears as prosecutor­s provided a narrative of how the shooting unfolded.

Cruz’s guilty plea was unexpected; there were plans to begin jury selection in the next few months. His lawyers had previously offered the guilty pleas with hopes the death penalty would be dropped, but prosecutor­s have continued to seek the death penalty.

Armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Cruz, then 19, fatally shot 14 students and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland more than three years ago.

The rampage, the deadliest at a high school in U.S. history, sparked national debate around guns and school safety. A group of students who survived the shooting organized a massive protest in Washington weeks later to demand changes to the nation’s gun laws.

Cruz, a former student with a violent history, wounded 17 others as he fired into classrooms and in hallways and moved up the three-story building. After the shooting, he slipped away in the group of students fleeing the building, police said. He was arrested on a nearby street after getting a drink at a Subway.

Hearings in the death penalty trial are scheduled for November and December, and testimony could begin in January.

In a separate case before the same judge, Cruz has also pleaded guilty to attacking a jail guard nine months after the shooting. He told Scherer during that plea hearing he understood that prosecutor­s can use that conviction as an aggravatin­g factor when they later argue for his execution.

Legal proceeding­s in the school shooting case had been delayed by the pandemic and arguments between the defense and prosecutio­n over evidence.

After news of Cruz’s expected guilty pleas broke, Samantha Grady, who was injured in the massacre and lost her best friend, 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, said she was glad he was acknowledg­ing the damage he caused.

“I hope we can start the process of truly moving on,” she said. “His punishment should be equal to the lives he has taken, the stress and horrors he has caused in a whole community, a whole state.”

 ?? AMY BETH BENNETT/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL VIA AP ?? Nikolas Cruz killed14 students and three staff members during a 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla.
AMY BETH BENNETT/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL VIA AP Nikolas Cruz killed14 students and three staff members during a 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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